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The Identity Crisis Facing Pakistan’s Transgender Community

Rafae, Chatsworth International School, Singapore

The struggle for the rights of transgender individuals has historically been a contentious and controversial global issue. Particularly, in the Islamic Republic of Pakistan, where society traditionally aligns itself with fundamentalist Islamic values, values which teach that transgender people cannot exist harmoniously within a functioning society. However, this has never hindered the existence of the transgender identity within Pakistan, with some estimates saying that there are around half a million openly transgender individuals living there.

In 2009, the Pakistani Supreme Court made a landmark decision stating that transgender Pakistani citizens would be allowed Identification Cards, with the option to select “transgender” as a third sex. However, since this decision, the nation has never seen a time in which these cards have been consistently distributed.

The National Database and Registration Authority (NADRA) took almost seven years to print these cards out officially. At this time, the organisation released no statements regarding why there were any delays or when cards would begin distribution. When cards did eventually begin distribution processes, the printing of the cards was condemned and opposed by many religious and political leaders within Pakistan, leading to large-scale delays and application cancellations for years after the cards were approved.

In 2017, the Islamic High Court of Pakistan ruled that the distribution of these cards was “Against the teachings of Islam” and it was, therefore, unconstitutional to distribute them. Production stalled for more than four months after this incident, and when it was announced that distribution would resume after mass protests from the Pakistani Hijra (transgender) community. It took until 2019 for the cards to be printed again. Since then, many transgender Pakistanis have reported never receiving their cards. The absence of these cards has detrimental effects on these individuals’ constitutional rights to live and work freely.

Transgender activist Kami Sid was extremely optimistic about the future of transgender people in Pakistan. “We are currently petitioning the supreme court to take action against the ruling of the Shahria (Islamic) court in Pakistan, However, transgenders are receiving their cards from NADRA right now,” she remarked when asked about the ongoing situation. “The government has signed deals with the EU and the UN and is now responsible for taking action against inequality in Pakistan, Although government services and implementation in our country are extremely slow”.

The future of the transgender community is hopeful but uncertain. Actions taken by the government in the past months have been widely helpful in bridging understanding between society and the transgender community. The fight for ID cards is only the newest battle in the decades-long war waged against transgender people by the Pakistani public. Those who oppose the distribution of these cards also support the total erasure of their representation from society.

As the LGBTQ+ movement becomes increasingly prevalent globally. It becomes more and more important to look at smaller-scale movements, to watch how people are able to stand up for their own rights and acceptance within their own communities. Regardless of where these movements take

place, they are all interconnected, the success of this situation is critical to the success of the global fight for transgender rights.

Sid ended our discussion by saying: “Transgender people, we are living in Pakistan and all we want are rights, which everyone has in this country, rights with dignity and respect”.

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